Amidst my constant haranguing about everything that’s wrong in music education, education and the world in general, I have the great fortune of rubbing shoulders with people doing fabulous things. An Orff colleague who has been my student in San Francisco, New Orleans, Ghana, Madrid, Carmel Valley and beyond has also become my teacher as his intuitive feel for great teaching develops with perpetually new ideas and clearer structures. His name is Tom Pierre and if you ever have an opportunity to study with him, run, don’t walk to the nearest sign-up sheet.
He called last night to share some of his successes in the first week of teaching, praising the breakthroughs he’s made as a result of apprenticing with us in our SF International Orff Course this last summer I was smiling ear-to-ear hearing how he teaches in the full measure of his own character, how real he is with the kids, how he infects them with his own extraordinary singing and dancing while giving them yet more space to discover and share their own. How he teaches vibration to vibration, away from the screens that rob vitality and then approved key-words and scripted sequences. All that I’ve written lately about school as a playground of joyful possibilities, he is living it!
But what touched me most of all was his story about how every day, sometimes in the class itself, he calls a few kids’ parents. Imagine you’re a parent and you get a call from a teacher. What do you expect? “Oh, no, what has my kid done now? I told him to behave!”
Imagine your delight as a parent, your pride and happiness as a kid when Tom says, “I just called you because I want you to hear how fabulous and courageous your child was when she just sang a solo in my class. Devani, can you sing that again for your Dad? Listen!” Every day, Tom shoots out some drive-by love to unexpecting parents and never the fake, “Your kid is awesome! They showed up to class!” but noticing their little breakthroughs and not only letting the child know he sees them, but taking that one extra step to let the parent know.
Teachers, are you paying attention? What if we all did that? If not every day, at least once a week? Stop accenting what kids do bad and make them and their parents doubt their worth and start noticing, publicly praising and sharing with their families how in these little shining moments, they’re more wonderful than most people (including themselves) give them credit for. And that also means giving them things to do worthy of their effort and particular genius. It would change everything. Everything.
Thanks, Tom, for the model and the reminder. I’m calling your Dad tonight.